by Kabir Nagpal
Zoran Primorac, momentous win
On a fine Sunday in 1997, legendary European athlete Zoran Primorac won the men’s singles title in Zhuhai. It was more than just a final for Primorac, beating Korea Republic’s Kim Taeksoo (21-11, 21-10, 21-10) to secure the top prize. Notably, in round two he accounted for a rising young Chinese star by the name of Wang Liqin (16-21, 21-19, 12-21, 21-13, 21-16).
The successes gave Primorac a confidence boost like no other. One month later on another fateful Sunday in October, he won the Perrier Men’s World Cup in Nimes. He defeated China’s Kong Linghui in the final (21-19, 22-20, 21-13). Significantly it was the second time he had secured the title, previously he had won in 1993 in Guangzhou.
Harimoto and Kizukuri stun the top seeds
Over the years, there has been some strong mileage in the men’s doubles event at the China Open. Take for example the men’s doubles semi-final in 2017 when Japan’s 13 year old Tomokazu Harimoto and 17 years of age Yuta Kizukuri defeated the Chinese superstar pairing of Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin (6-11, 5-11, 11-7, 11-9, 14-12)!
Only three weeks earlier Xu and Fan had been anointed World champions. It was highly unlikely the Japanese teenagers would cause any trouble. But it all was only to be proven wrong as the teenagers made sure that in the 32 tournaments when men’s doubles was held at the China Open, this was the only time when a Chinese pair did not appear in the final.
In the final the duo lost to Japanese colleagues, Jin Ueda and Maharu Yoshimura.
Boll and Franziska eliminate World Champions
In the 2019 men’s doubles’ final, it was a clash of titans when Germany’s Timo Boll and Patrick Franziska faced China’s Ma Long and Wang Chuqin. It was expected to be a match going down to the wire but the European duo had other ideas.
Winning in straight games (11-8, 11-7, 11-5), Boll and Franziska moved as if their minds were one – with no rally they could not handle.
What made this performance even better was the fact that just about four weeks prior, Ma Long and Wang Chuqin had been crowned World champions in Budapest!
Wen Jia: the qualifying Champion
In the 2011, at the Volkswagen China Open in Shenzhen, playing on home soil, Wen Jia won the women’s singles title. Nothing unusual but there was a major asterix attached to that win.
To this day, she remains the only player to win women’s singles gold at a China Open having been required to compete in the qualification event. She first saw off Chinese Taipei’s Lin Chia-Chih, followed by Canada’s Zhang Mo in the qualifiers. In the main draw she accounted for Singapore’s Li Jiawei and Sun Beibei, Japan’s Sayaka Hirano and comaptriot Guo Yue to reach the final.
At the final hurdle, she defeated Singapore’s Feng Tianwei (9-11, 11-8, 11-5, 9-11, 11-5, 11-7), a player in form. At the semi-final stage, she had beaten Liu Shiwen.
Fan’s first win over the Dragon
Never before had Fan Zhendong stood victorious over Ma Long on the ITTF World Tour but that record changed forever when the then 19 year old defeated the world no. 1 at the time in the final of the 2016 SheSays China Open.
Fan went on to win a gigantic 4-0 (11-9, 13-11, 11-8, 11-5) against the Dragon, something that was quite unheard of back in the day.
It was a thunderous performance that signalled his intent to change the top order of the men’s sport – which he has clearly managed to do with his long standing tussle with Xu Xin for the world number one spot in recent days. Never forget though, it all started at the China Open!